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The Fires of Survival

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Build a Fire
Building a fire is the most important task when dealing with survival in the wilderness. Be sure to build yours in a sandy or rocky area or near a supply of sand and water as to avoid forest fires. The most common mistakes made by those attempting to build a fire are: choosing poor tinder, failing to shield precious matches from the wind and smothering the flames with too large pieces of fuel. The four most important factors when starting a fire are spark - tinder - fuel - oxygen.
The most common ways to create spark are:
1. Waterproof, strike-anywhere matches are your best bet. Matches may be water-proofed by dipping them in nail polish. Store your matches in a waterproof container.
2. A cigarette lighter is also a good way to produce a spark, with or without fuel.
3. The flint and steel method is one of the oldest and most reliable methods in fire starting. Aim the sparks at a pile of dry tinder to produce a fire.
4. The electric spark produced from a battery will ignite a gasoline dampened rag.
5. Remove half of the powder from a bullet and pour it into the tinder. Next place a rag in the cartridge case of the gun and fire. The rag should ignite and then may be placed into the tinder.
6. Allow the suns rays to pass through a magnifying glass onto the tinder.
Dry grass, paper or cloth lint, gasoline-soaked rags and dry bark are all forms of tinder. Place your tinder in a small pile resembling a tepee with the driest pieces at the bottom. Use a fire starter or strip of pitch if it is available.
It is important to keep in mind that smaller pieces of kindling such as, twigs, bark, shavings and gasoline, are necessary when trying to ignite larger pieces of fuel. Gather fuel before attempting to start your fire. Obviously dry wood burns better and wet or pitchy wood will create more smoke. Dense, dry wood will burn slow and hot. A well ventilated fire will burn best.
The Hand Drill
In the movie Quest For Fire a very dramatic scene depicting the hand drill method of fire making was shown. If you haven't seen it try and rent the video as soon as you can because it not only depicts this method pretty well, but also shows the tremendous importance the ability to possess fire had for early people. This is what we want to think about when we recreate their efforts for ourselves.You will need two things-a fire drill (or spindle) and a hearth board. Make sure you adhere to any dimensions given as closely as you can. The drill has to be made of stalks from mullein or yucca. The yucca stalks seem to be the choice in my area. They should be about four feet long and the ends should be trimmed so that the top is about a half inch in diameter. Make the tip end a tad bigger in diameter so that it tapers-smaller at the top, bigger at the tip or bottom end. Round off the tip end.
Make your hearth from a wood that isn't resinous or gummy. Use something that won't get shiny and glazed. Make sure it's absolutely dry. Use a board made of something like Ash or White Oak or Cedar. It should be about 1" thick, 4" wide, a somewhere over a foot long. A "V" shaped notch is cut into the board and a circular depression is created at the point of that notch. This is where the tip of the drill will be placed. The edge of the depression should end up being about 1/8" inch from the edge of the hearth.
Now you kneel down with your foot resting on one end of the hearth to keep it from moving around. Take your drill and place the tip into one of the depressions. Spin it in the depression by twirling it between your palms as if you were making snakes out of clay-all the while pressing downward. Your hands will push toward the bottom as you do this so you will need to quickly get them back to the top of the drill as fast as you can. You have to do this so that you don't lose the heat you are building up. You keep doing this until you create a charcoal-like, hot dust which collects in the notch and is piled up until it falls into some tinder which has been placed by the edge of the board. This "coal" is then blown on so that the tinder will ignite. It's important that the hot dust can travel out of the depression and down the notch to the tinder.
There are people who can get a fire going from this technique relatively quickly. They have practiced and practiced. A first-timer should understand that it could take a while-15 minutes, probably more. But be persistent and practice the technique as much as you can.

The Fire Bow Drill
The bow drill method is nice because you can bear down on the drill better. It's easier because the rotation of the drill is close to constant which reduces heat loss and increases efficiency. There are four parts to this set-up; the drill, the bearing block, the hearth, and the bow. The bearing block can be made of wood or soapstone. It's palm sized and has a hollow drilled into it so it can receive the top end of the drill. The top is lubricated with fat or wax or some such thing to help facilitate the rotation by reducing the friction at that end.
The drill isn't as long-only about a foot-and it's just under an inch in diameter. The tip can be rounded over and worked down to about 1/2 inch in diameter. Make your hearth the same as you did for the hand drill method. The bow is made from a heavy piece of branch that is just over an inch in diameter and about 12 and 1/2 inches long. You drill a hole through it about half an inch in from the end and that's where the ends of the cord are attached. Try heavy leather boot lacing for the cord or you can make your own from sinew or a piece of heavy leather. The cord is looped around the drill as shown above. The bearing block is placed atop the drill. The tip of the drill is then placed in it's proper position on the hearth. Heavy pressure is applied to the drill. The bow is then sawed back and forth continously to spin the drill until the glowing coal is produced as in the hand drill method. Make sure the cord is good and tight around the drill, be persistant, and good luck!

Sparks From Flint, yes it can be done.
It is the old one, the constant metaphor for great beginnings. The spark. Long ago the ability to create and make use of hot sparks to make fire was discovered. We can recreate these methods easily today with just a little practice. A complete Fire Starting Kit should come in a leather bag with directions, Flint, steel striker, tin tinder box, tow tinder, and a tin of charcloth. Before the introduction of steel, sparks were obtained using a piece of iron pyrite for the striker. It was smacked across the edge of a piece of flint to make sparks which were caught in tinder. Later, steel strikers were employed and used in the same manner. You hold a large piece of flint, with the sharp edge out, in one hand. You then keep a piece of charred tinder in place on top of the flint with your thumb. The flint is then struck a sharp blow with the steel and the resulting sparks are caught in the tinder and then blown on to ignite a nest of dry grass, or other such material, into flame. Be very careful to keep your knuckles away from the sharp edge of that flint or you'll get cut. A material is required that will be very effective in catching sparks and just such a material is next to be discussed.

How To Catch A Spark
The best material for catching a spark is charcloth. It has been used for centuries. I like to make my charcloth from old cotton bluejeans. It's an idea I got from Bob Perkins of BPS Engineering. Take an old, empty, one quart paint can and throw it in a fire and let it sit until anything that might have adhered to the sides is burned off. After it cools, take a common size nail and punch a venthole in the lid of the can. What you have now is a container that can be used over and over to make charcloth. Take the pure cotton material and cut it into pieces that are about 4" by 4" in size. Place them loosely into the can and pound the lid on. Throw the can into the fire so that the vent hole isn't blocked. You'll see smoke pour out of the vent hole and sometimes this stuff coming out catches and makes a flame. Don't let the cloth get overcooked or it will be scorched and crumbly and useless. You can tell when it's done when the smoke pretty much stops coming out of the hole. A wire or coat hanger can be placed around the can to help to get it out when it's done. Don't open the can yet. Let it cool first or it may ignite. The cloth has been charred in the absence of enough air so introduction of it at this time would be a bummer. If you look at the cloth and it doesn't seem done, then put it back in the can, seal things up, and throw it in the fire again for a bit till it's right. When you need to use some charcloth, just tear a piece off. Keep your charcloth in a dry container or ziplock bag. You can do the same thing with the dry, punky wood you find in old stumps. Just take some pieces of it and char it in the can like you did for the cloth.

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